Palms is Aristakisyan’s astonishing portrait of people who live on the margins of life and exist outside normal society. Profound, spiritual and hallucinatory, Palms is remarkable at every level and one of the most visionary films of recent years.
Narrated by the director addressing his unborn son, the film is compassionate, revelatory and bold in its originality and was awarded the NIKA (Russian Oscar) for Best Documentary in 1994. This is its first-ever release on DVD.
“I would like the film to answer the need for community – to show how people are tied together, sometimes paradoxically” Artur Aristakisyan
A short excerpt from the Booklet essay by Graeme Hobbs
Perhaps surprisingly for a film populated almost entirely with beggars, Palms has nothing to do with charity. Its real subject is proximity. In its relentless depiction of life at the margins and with its discomfiting jabs of authenticity, it is an affront to personal space. Why should this be so?
Part of the answer comes in a quote from John Berger’s essay Steps Towards a Small Theory of the Visible, in which, considering the current omnipresence and elusiveness of images, he describes the system outside of which the people in Palms exist. What are depicted, he says, “used to be called physical appearances because they belonged to solid bodies. Now appearances are volatile. Technological innovation has made it easy to separate the apparent from the existent. And this is precisely what the present system’s mythology continually needs to exploit. It turns appearances into refractions, like mirages: refractions not of light but of appetite, in fact a single appetite, the appetite for more.”1
In contrast to these fugitive appearances, there is no doubt that in Palms we are in the company of solid bodies, maimed and damaged bodies even, not seeking our attention or intervention, utterly indifferent to us at our safe distance, yet completely present. They feed no appetite, create no wealth, yet still they stubbornly exist, heavy with the affront of parasitic life.
One of the usual lures of cinema is the attraction of journeying in safety to places and with people you would not otherwise meet. Palms presents you with no seductive journeys. It does not care about you and it does not indulge you. It leaves you with nowhere to go except back on yourself, making you keenly aware of your own reaction – your disgust, your righteousness, your shame, the boundaries of your love. Watching Palms, you are no longer the centre of the world. How can you incorporate this place and its people? At times, the film even looks like it comes from another century. The flashes of modern clothing and accessories – a leather jacket, a handbag, a pushchair – belonging to people in the streets, seem incongruous.
In his words, with Palms, Aristakisyan presents a film of outsiders objectionable to the system. What makes them so? An answer comes at the beginning of Part Two with the epileptics, of whom he says that they “proved to be objectionable because they didn’t need to go anywhere. They were at the border between worlds and could see clearly.” It is this lack of need, this appetite only for necessities, that is objectionable.
“A wholly remarkable experience” The Guardian
“… inspiring, for Aristakisyan has fashioned a transcendent vision of light, a parable, a manifesto, a desperate poetic paen to these invisible people, and to the dramatic density of their lives” Sight & Sound
“Comparisons have been made with Tarkovsky and Pasolini, but Aristakisyan deserves to be regarded as an uniquely individual filmmaker” Empire
Empire – 4 stars
The Guardian – 4 stars
Neon – 4 stars
The Big Issue – 4 stars
Time Out – Critic’s Choice
Subtitles:English (idx & sub,srt)